Brentwood High School students in the Class of 2017 celebrate...

Brentwood High School students in the Class of 2017 celebrate at their graduation ceremony on June 25, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

The graduation rate for the high school Class of 2017 rose to 80.2 percent statewide — up from 79.7 percent the year before — while results on Long Island dipped slightly, the state Education Department announced Wednesday.

On Long Island, the average graduation rate was 88.9 percent, lower than the adjusted figure of 89.6 percent for the Class of 2016. Average rates for Nassau County and Suffolk County, though down a bit from a year ago, remained substantially above the state average.

Year-to-year comparisons are difficult to make because the state in recent years has relaxed diploma requirements to a degree.

Education officials in Albany, as well as on the Island, emphasized long-term gains.

Statewide, the percentage of teenagers earning diplomas during the 2016-17 school year was up more than 11 percentage points from the 68.6 percent recorded a decade ago for the Class of 2007.

The average Islandwide gain was up nearly 4 percentage points over the decade, from 85 percent reported for the 2006-07 school year.

“New York’s graduation rate continues its steady, upward trend,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a prepared statement. “And that’s good news.”

In many cases, improvements in the two-county region were most pronounced in districts that struggled in the past. In Roosevelt, for example, graduation rates rose 7 percentage points from 2007 to 2017, from 56 percent to 63 percent.

“We have a laser-like focus on graduation,” said Marnie Hazelton, superintendent of Roosevelt’s 3,300-student system.

Efforts to boost Roosevelt’s graduation rates include tutoring sessions after school and on Saturdays in advance of state Regents exams, Hazelton said.

The district has run independently since 2013-14, following a state takeover that began in 2002 and continued for 11 years.

For the Hempstead district, which has experienced some of the lowest graduation rates in the state, the Education Department on Wednesday reported another substantial drop. Only 36.7 percent of students graduated in 2016-17, compared with 47.6 percent the year before, the department’s data showed.

Regina Armstrong, who took over as Hempstead’s acting superintendent last month, said the 2016-17 figure was misleading because it included results for students who had been in the district’s high school for five or six years.

State graduation rates are supposed to be reported by “cohort” — a group that includes only students who enter high school in a particular year and graduate on time four years later. The graduation rates announced Wednesday, for instance, were for the cohort of 2013.

Armstrong said she is confident that Hempstead’s actual graduation results are improving, and that the issue would be discussed Monday with state authorities who are monitoring the troubled district.

“Even now, we’re predicting that, for our current 11th-grade students, 60 percent are already on track for on-time graduation,” Armstrong said.

A total of 207,165 students statewide were included in the state’s graduation cohort for the Class of 2017. Graduates included students earning both Regents diplomas and local diplomas, which are less demanding.

New York for many years has ranked in the middle-of-the pack among states in terms of graduation rates. The latest available figures from the U.S. Education Department for 2014-15 show 37 states with higher graduation results.

One reason for New York’s relatively low ranking, according to expert analysts, is that its exam requirements for graduation have been among the nation’s most challenging.

Starting in 1995, New York moved toward a system in which students had to pass five Regents exams, written at a college-prep level, to earn diplomas. Until then, many students had graduated by passing easier state competency tests.

Subjects covered by the tests include English, math, science, U.S. history and global history.

Many students have found the exam requirements to be an obstacle to graduation, and the state has begun relaxing some of its rules. Since June 2016, for example, students have been allowed to substitute completion of a series of vocational courses and a vocational exam for one of the Regents tests previously required.

Other course sequences and tests — including those focused on science, math and technology — also can be substituted in an approach known as “multiple pathways to graduation.”

On Wednesday, the state noted that 9,900 students statewide had earned diplomas through alternative routes. That figure included both June and August graduates.

Class of 2017 graduation rates

Statewide: 80.2 percent

Long Island: 88.9 percent

Nassau: 89.5 percent

Suffolk: 88.4 percent

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